Later this week my maternity leave will officially come to an end. The bubble will pop and, for the second time, I will rejoin ‘the real world’. It’s fitting that we should so often refer to the non-maternity world as ‘real’, because so much about the maternity bubble is in its own way, surreal.
Somewhere among the brain-fog that is currently a permanent fixture of my existence, I remember the eager anticipation of my ‘year off work’ the first time round. The new recipes I was going to try, the books I was going to read (I had a real-life actual list), the way I’d have time to somehow morph into a cooking, cleaning, Cath-Kidston-apron-wearing domestic goddess. What actually happened, especially in the early days, was I ‘cooked’ food in the microwave or sometimes toaster (toast counts as cooking right?), I am still mourning the loss of my living room carpet and far from working the domestic goddess look, I am almost always covered in snot and despite stock piling enough touch-eclat to single handedly keep YSL in business, my eye bags are stubborn little bastards and just Will. Not. Go.
The ‘maternity bubble’ wasn’t what I thought it would be. I expected to be tired. I expected to be loved up to my eye-balls as I snuggled our newest babe. Both of these things were right, in fact. But it was also so much more. Looking back at it now, some days were lonely and I craved the company of grown-ups. Some days were plain monotonous and I missed mental stimulation beyond reciting ‘This little piggy’ and ‘Wind the bobbin up’ on repeat. Some days were physically and mentally exhausting and occasionally – truth be told – dark, at least this time round. This time our baby had a cows milk allergy and severe reflux so he would wake us every forty minutes through the night and he would scream and scream and arch his back and screw his tiny face up in pain and I’d feel like the least competent mother in the world and cry with him because I didn’t know what to do. Some days I’d phone my mom and cry to her that “it shouldn’t be like this”. But in truth, for lots of people it is. Lots of babies are difficult and have reflux, or allergies, or collic, or something you just never quite get to the bottom of and it throws a massive bloody spanner in the works and your imagined maternity haven comes crashing down momentarily right before your eyes.
But for all of it, today I want to weep and cry that it is over. I want to cry because it’s finally getting easier. I want to cry because my baby still feels so small and I want to keep him all to myself. I want to cry because for all of the challenges, there have been many more moments that have made me want to breathe them in and inhale them deeply so that they become permanently etched in my quickly diminishing memory. Yes – the obvious milestones: first smiles, the first time our eldest met our youngest, the first time they crawled. But also the feeling of my baby’s skin when I hold him tight; the sheer excitement in his eyes at the most seemingly insignificant thing; the funny things my toddler ALWAYS says that I can NEVER remember to tell anybody else when it comes to it. The new friends I’ve made and enjoyed many an afternoon pub-lunching with (now that WAS a part of my imagined maternity world).
In the end, it wasn’t what I thought it would be really. It was more and for it all, I’m thankful.